Fate of church hall decided as locals fear losing community facility

Exterior of the two-storey church hall.
Church Hall, Ramsey Road, St Ives, is due to be converted into three homes. -Credit:Google

A church hall is due to be converted into new homes despite concerns about the loss of the community facility. Plans have been approved to convert the Church Hall, in Ramsey Road, St Ives into three new homes. Previous proposals to convert the building into four homes were refused by Huntingdonshire District Council last year.

The Parochial Church Council, which put forward the redevelopment plans, said the number of people looking to hire the hall had declined over the years and that the building itself now needed over £150,000 spent on it. The group said selling the building will provide the money to upgrade the church facilities to offer a better community space there.

The plans said: “The hall is now unsuitable for community use. The charity that owns the hall is duty bound to manage their assets in the most effective way. With ample supply of better placed local premises it has proved impossible to rent the hall at a realistic rate to justify the investment required.

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“To complete the works [needed it] would require an estimated budget of £150,000 plus VAT. The Church Council has now resolved to sell the hall site for redevelopment and to invest the resulting money from the sale in reordering of the Parish Church. This reordering would include the provision of a kitchen and toilets as well as other social space.

“The intention is to make the church facilities more suitable for wider community use. It is the intention of the Trustees to accommodate all the former users of the hall in the reordered church. This would allow the church to compete with other local facilities. It is envisaged that the new church facilities will be more attractive to other community users with its ability to provide facilities for social activities, small meetings and performing arts.”

Councillors were told at a development management committee meeting this week (April 22) that before the pandemic the hall had been used on average two hours a week. The meeting heard that this generated around £30 of income, which councillors were told was not enough to cover the running costs of the hall.

However, St Ives Town Council had said it opposed the development due to the loss of the community facility. Five objections from members of the public had also been lodged raising concerns about the redevelopment proposals. Ian Dobson, who spoke at the meeting, argued it was “entirely reasonable” that fundraising efforts could have taken place to raise the money needed to repair the building.

He said the hall was an “integral” part of the parish church and said allowing the conversion would “deprive future generations” of the community facility. Councillor Patricia Jordan said it was “always difficult when a community does lose a facility”, but said times had changed and that there were buildings being used less as meeting places.

Councillor Jon Neish said he would support the proposals with a “slightly heavy heart”, as he said he did believe other choices could have been made in the past around the church hall. He said the decision in the end was a balance between the loss of the hall as a community facility and the benefits of the new housing, adding that there were other facilities in the town people could use instead.

Councillor Shariqa Mokbul said she did not believe the new housing outweighed the loss of the hall as a community facility. She said she had attended “lots of joyous occasions” held at the hall in the past and suggested more could have been done to raise the money needed to maintain the hall.

Cllr Mokbul also told the meeting she had tried to hire the hall more recently, but had found it “really difficult” and had not been able to do so. When a decision on the application was put to a vote, 10 councillors voted to approve the plans, with two councillors voting against.

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